As parents, it’s tough to even consider that our children may have experimented with drugs simply because we think that we “raised them better than that”. It is important to understand that teenage years are a time of change and discovery which is why even a “good child” may be tempted to experiment with substances and drugs. However, what teens may perceive as harmless dabbling, for instance, smoking marijuana, can sometimes lead to dependence on stronger drugs with marijuana being the “gateway” drug.
Factors That Increase The Risk of Teen Substance Use.
The teen years are all about exploring boundaries and learning to make decisions. As parents, we need to understand what can cause teen substance use so that we can help our kids make good choices. From peer pressure and low self-esteem to stress and a desire for an escape – there are plenty of reasons why a teen may turn to drugs. These are some of the most common causes for the rise in teen substance use:
Increased Availability of Drugs.
One of the major factors fuelling the problem of substance use in teens is the ease of drug availability. Drug distribution networks have expanded to suburban and even rural areas which has drastically increased the opportunity for teens to initiate drug use. Unfortunately, teens can go from first-time users to chronic use within a shockingly short span of time, especially with highly addictive drugs such as heroin. Additionally, marijuana is more easily available in states where it is legal for medical purposes which means that it is also more accessible to teens. Teens can also obtain and abuse alcohol without much risk from authorities. Studies show that by 12th grade, 66% of students have tried alcohol and 50% have used marijuana.
The Perceived “Normalization” of Drugs.
The use of some drugs, particularly marijuana has become a part of popular youth culture and is perceived as “not really a drug” by many teens. Researchers found that only 4% of their youth sample group did not like their experience with marijuana use while almost 90% voiced positive attitudes towards marijuana use and said that it made them feel good. This acceptance of marijuana is often shared by peers and relatives which increases the perceived “normalization” of this drug. Similarly, teens view alcohol (including heavy drinking) as less risky – a recent PATS (Partnership Attitude Tracking Study) survey found that 45% of teens do not view heavy daily drinking as a “great risk”.
Budget Cuts in Prevention Methods.
In previous years, schools and community programs received adequate funding and were able to provide extensive preventative measures for substance abuse among teens. However, budget cuts throughout the country have resulted in the cessation of several of these outreach programs which has increased the risk of teens engaging in these behaviors through sheer ignorance of the risks and consequences. Previously, education on the impact of drugs helped to correct the misguided beliefs of teens who assumed that since marijuana can be used medically, it meant that it is safe for regular consumption. The lack of adequate preventative methods has resulted in the spread of misinformation and increased substance use.
Problems in Family Relationships.
National data indicates that divorce/separation is now one of the most common adverse childhood events. Furthermore, teens who have divorced/separated parents are more likely to start drinking earlier and remain heavy drinkers throughout their lives. The divorce rate in the US is among the highest in the world today as 40 to 50% of married couples in the country divorce. Divorce can also have lasting detrimental effects on a teen’s mental health and increases the risk of substance abuse and dependence. It is important for divorced parents to communicate with their children and set concrete family policies regarding alcohol and substance use. Teens raised with a balanced approach of encouragement and discipline are less likely to fall victim to substance abuse.
Signs of Teen Substance Use and Addiction.
Puberty is a time of fluctuating hormone levels which can cause mood swings and behavioral changes. Your normally sweet teen turns sullen and rebellious and you’re not sure whether these changes are normal or if they could indicate teen addiction. The best thing to do at this point is to keep an eye out for some of these common signs of teen substance use:
- Indifference to favorite extracurricular activities
- Demands for privacy that result in prolonged periods of self-isolation
- A change in speech patterns or slurring
- A sudden decline in grades
- An abrupt change in friend/social circles
- Bouts of paranoia
- Problems with movement and coordination
- Pupil dilation and/or profuse sweating
- Bloodshot eyes or sudden and unexplained nosebleeds
- Very high/low energy levels
We are often so worried about our kids’ safety that we become strict authoritarians which pushes our kids away. Instead, it is better to maintain a healthy relationship with our children during adolescence so that they know they can come to us for advice and guidance. Teens who suffer from anxiety, depression or any related mental health issues are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol so if your child has suffered from these problems in the past, it would be wise to keep a close eye on them for any signs of substance use.
Do you see any signs of substance abuse in your child? Feel free to reach out, we are always here to help answer questions.